Graphics vs. Gameplay – The Eternal Battle

Since the release of the Nintendo DS, and later followed by the Sony PSP, fanboys from both sides have divided to battle into one big, endless discussion – graphics vs. gameplay. “Gameplay is all that matters” says the gameplay side. “Graphics is everything” says the other one. But which is the right one? Is there really any way to know? I’m going to try to solve this unsolvable issue once and for all, so both sides can see, that there was no real battle to begin with.

I’m going to blatantly begin by stating that gameplay is the most important element of a video game. It’s okay if you disagree with it, but I can prove it is like this in most cases. How, you ask? I’ll just give you some simple examples.

Take GoldenEye for the Nintendo 64, considered by most, myself included, one of the best first person shooter games, that includes one of the most enjoyable multiplayer modes ever made. Now compare it to one of its newer “spiritual successors”, GoldenEye: Rouge Agent. Sure, the newer one might have better graphics, but in no way is it superior to the older one. Take even a newer “spiritual successor”, Perfect Dark Zero. Again, awesome graphics, better gameplay, but not a better game.

This might be arguable by many, who might be thinking “yeah sure, he says Goldeneye is better, but I believe Perfect Dark Zero is a whole lot better, therefore, disproving his point”. If one quick look at Gamerankings.com to compare both games still doesn’t convince you, then I might as well use a more exaggerated example. Hmmm, then how about the new Sonic the Hedgehog game for Xbox 360? No, I haven’t played it yet, but it’s been receiving pretty damn low reviews, even with its “next-gen” graphics. Compare that to one of its older predecessors, like Sonic Adventure, for Dreamcast. Still not convinced? There are a whole lot of examples I can come up with, but it’s just not worth the hassle.

So what does this mean? Even if a video game has the most wonderful graphics in the world, but it has bad gameplay, it won’t be near as good as the other videogame with crappy graphics, but awesome gameplay. Simple, heh?

So are graphics non-important, then? No, absolutely no. Graphics are important. But to what extent?

A video game is divided in different elements, on what I like to normally classify as the gameplay, graphics, control, music, and story. Gameplay, as stated before, is the most important element of video games. Every other element in the list serves for the sole purpose of making your gameplay experience better. This means, that if a game has good control, nice graphics, cool music and sound effects, and an immersive story, it will enhance the gameplay experience by a whole lot, making the game a whole lot better in the process.

There’s a big but in this last statement. But, it depends on everyone. There are some people who think that they just need their games to look awesome, and they just love eye candy better, than say, music. There are some people that absolutely believe that music is more important than graphics. There are also some people who don’t much care about music and graphics, as long as the game has a good control. And, there are also some people, that don’t care about all the other ones, and just want the game to have a story that rivals that of a good novel. Heck, with this last one, there are some people that won’t care how much of a bad game it is all together, they’ll play it as long as it has an awesome story.

My point? Story, to some extent, is even more important than graphics, and sometimes, gameplay. But then again, it depends on each and every gamer. But I firmly believe that gameplay is and should be the most important priority for the average gamer. You want good music? There are tons of people dedicated to making good music. Good story? There are a lot of good books to read, etc., etc.

Bottom line? Gamplay’s the most important element of a video game, but it wouldn’t hurt for it to have awesome graphics, though not required. As much as we all would love for a game to exceed at every element, we should be grateful enough that a developer has spent a lot more of their time and budget into making a good, fun game with decent graphics, than a horrible game with the best eye candy a $8,000 gaming rig can output.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got the sudden urge to play GoldenEye again. Hope you guys enjoyed this first article, please comment on it and criticize it as much as you can.

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20 comments so far

  1. Dallas on

    thats the best way i think anyone could’ve said it, plus, thats the first thing ive read all the way through in a while now, good job

  2. lav on

    Look at the graphics of tetris. Notice how nobody played tetris 2 with its superior graphics.

  3. Erick Gzz on

    Exactly. Come to think of it, Tetris Worlds is one of the worst Tetris game I’ve bought, and it had superior graphics than a lot of it’s predecessors. I just went back and played the original Tetris for Gameboy (catchy music!).

    40 bucks for a GBA game that didn’t even save your records… ack.

  4. Zero Stormrage on

    ah tetris… I would also say that the original tetris is better than Tetris DS and that game had superior graphics.

  5. Terkaal on

    I used to end up in the same argument time and time again with another of my avid gamer friends, like the author says, I believe gameplay is the most important aspect of a game.

    Here’s the example I used with my mate 😛
    “Let’s say next week, a game came out with the greatest graphics ever witnessed in human history. This game is all about cleaning toilets. Would you play it?”

  6. James McDonald on

    I totally agree with this article but I have one gripe with it. The section where you compare games with lower quality graphics to their next-gen equivalent is not as foundatory as you think. The fact that you have gone solely on review scores for most of your examples is a huge mistake because when those reviews came out the graphics were superb for tha time. When you take this into account you can see that the high score will have been affected by this. Other than that though this is the best argument on this topic I have read in a good while. Congratulations!

  7. e5ryurtiyt on

    my cock is huge

  8. Daryl on

    Instinctively I like graphics, but when I sit back and think, I know it is really the gameplay that matters.

  9. Daniel on

    graphics are meaningless without gameplay.

    They are like playing pieces in chess or the balls in snooker. Completely useless unless incorproated in a game. The benefits of graphics is that they can grab our attention initially & they can add to the gameplay.

    In term sof all the components (i.e. sound, music, etc.) in games. All need to be designed with balance in relation to one another. Any component that is mis-designed will ake any user ditch the game. Imagine playing flight simulator & your plane sounds like a cartoon plane or playing mario kart but your car sounds like an F1 car. balance is lost.

  10. signularis on

    What people most forgot that graphix can come with 2 categories looking good, and playeble graphix, does the camera move well is the interfsce correct. I played a lot of old games that the graphix were a big thing with gameplay. I had game once whose graphix were so bad it was unplayeble or the engine makes it impossible to reckonise enemies with allies. Or the graphix is so good it staggerers at the right moment.

  11. a.style on

    I am on complete agreement with this article. This gameplay over graphics element was what originally persuaded me to buy the 360 over the PS3. Agreeable the PS3’s graphics are pretty damn good, the 360’s gameplay is just superb. While PS3 spent a lot of time and money making their console materialistically superior, 360 spent a lot of time and money thinking about what a real gamer would want. If people really wanted graphics over gameplay, would a game be the first choice? If you want something to be aesthetically pleasing, would you really look at the graphics of a -game-? I never thought this argument would come up but I think that because of the next-gen consoles, it has. Next-gen is all about graphics but that’s where 360 excels. They didn’t throw gameplay out the window. Infact, if anything, they only brought graphics back in along with gameplay. Relating back, it seems the PS3 was made for entertainment [or eye-candy as some people like to call it], but the 360 was made for what games were originally made for. Playing games.

  12. Garg on

    This is a great article, I wish some of this would be heard by game developers.

    On another note, I have not noticed a significant difference between Half Life 2 (A game that came out in 2004) and any game that has come out in 08-09, as far as graphics are concerned.

    Additionally, is it just me, or do some high-end graphics in games just make it harder to pick out objects in the game world? (I had this problem in Fable 2, where I couldn’t find the papers without REALLY searching)

  13. Aerii on

    Graphics should be good enough that they aren’t distractingly bad. But graphics are definitely NOT the main thing to worry about. If I cared about graphics and only graphics, I’d watch a movie.

  14. Thomas Ella on

    No offense, but your Goldeneye example is the dumbest possible way of arguing your point. You’re comparing games from different generations and acting like you can just directly compare them. It’s like if I came in and said “E.T. for the Atari 2600 had really shitty graphics but Call of Duty 4 has awesome graphics and that’s why it’s better!”

    Um… no?

    E.T. was a shitty game, just like Goldeneye: Rogue Agent, just like Perfect Dark Zero. You can’t just compare different games of different qualities like that to see whether graphics or gameplay matter more. It’s just stupid.

    Especially comparing games of different generations. Of course the newer generation game is going to have better graphics, just by virtue of better technology. But it’s still a shitty game.

    Simply put, graphics and gameplay have equal importance to a game. People act like graphics don’t matter, but that’s bullshit. Total bullshit.

  15. Dylan on

    thomas has it correct ^

  16. Lorenz on

    You have to compare the same games only with a newer version. Like CoD2 was like uber great,, CoD4 was good ,, CoD5 sucks so damn hard! really, wtf! CoD5.. shiiit, what did they do with the gameplay.. it’s like so much gfx that you can barely c your enemies xD I think games are about competing with skills,, in the new games you can’t c the camping nubs because of all the stupid gfx.. you saw what did they did with COD4.. they made a mod to remove all the shitty gfx! I miss the old times where you could jump on stuff with high speed with all the action,, now they make it soo realistic that it will become as boring as real life..

  17. Jyiber on

    I think that what matters to you is most important, like the writer of this article pointed out. If your a numbskull, and you fail to appreciate the awesome complexity and captivating game play of a truly well put together game because the graphics were not good enough for you, well that’s up to you. I also think that different games need different strengths, for instance, I won’t play an RPG with horrible game play and a bad story that still has good graphics, and I won’t play a racing game with horrible graphics and great music. This is because you should be looking for different things in different kinds of games. Of course we all can’t be critics, be we can all be idiots if we try hard enough.

    Peace out, and remember, nobody gives a **** what you think.

  18. Vine Fynn on

    I believe that graphics don’t make a game awesome on their own, though they are necessary to make a game great. An example is Far Cry 2. At least for me, I never finished the game because the transit times were so tedious. However, if you take a game like Stronghold 1 (especially Stronghold Crusader Extreme), that wasn’t terribly well received (at least by critics) because of the terrible graphics, even for 2001.

  19. poo on

    I agree with the argument but you should have compared games with similar release dates so people don’t say you’r just being nostalgic


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